Google Commerce Continues to Ramp Up for Holiday Shopping

November 4, 2010 Leave a comment

Over the past month (even the past week!), Google has made lots of Commerce related updates/announcement that retailers might have missed, so I thought I’d sum them up really quickly.

1.  Google Merchant Center (GMC) updated its data feed specifications, significantly cutting the list of attributes.  As far as SingleFeed knows, all attributes which were formerly listed are still supported, but Google Product Search might not be highlighting those attributes for refinement purposes.

2.  Google Checkout is accepting holiday promotions!  While Geckout is no longer footing the bill for these types of promotions, this is still a great opportunity for merchants.  From the blog post: “Last holiday season, merchants who ran a Checkout promotion increased their Google Checkout sales by an average of 209%, compared to a 25% increase for merchants who did not participate.”  Merchants who set up a holiday promotion will benefit from a special badge and what sounds like a ton of promotion from Google: Google will market the promotion through AdWords ads, emails to buyers, and social networking posts…Social Networking Posts???

If you participate, we’ll change your standard Google Checkout button on your website to the special promotional Checkout button that features an orange starburst labeled with the promotion discount. When the minimum cart requirement is met, the discount will automatically appear for buyers when they shop with Google Checkout from November 23, 2010 at 4:00 PM Pacific to December 16, 2010, at 4:00 PM Pacific.

Additionally, if you are an AdWords advertiser, Google will change the standard Checkout badge appearing on your Google.com AdWords ads to a new badge that features the promotion discount. These badges have been introduced to enable shoppers who search on Google.com to easily identify and take advantage of promotional offers.

3.  Data Feeds now influence your SEO listings.  While I’ve talked for years about the opportunity to mine your data feed for keywords for SEO and PPC, Google one upped me by putting the GMC feed content in organic results.  This is the Rich Snippets program (microformats).  For you non-webmasters, I’m not talking about the OneBox listings, I’m talking about rich product information within merchant organic listings. Check out the highlighted sections below for Amazon, HSN, and Williams-Sonoma rich snippet info garnered from the data feed.

Merchants can take advantage of this as follows: 1) providing a data feed and specifying rel=canonical (merchants need a lot more info on rel=canonical…way too many unanswered questions) on product pages, 2) providing markup to your site, and 3) through the Product Reviews program.  Read the Rich Snippets for Shopping blog post to find out more.

4.  Google Boost – Advertise your local business in San Francisco, Houston, and Chicago.  Local store information (location, hours, coupons, etc.) is going to become more and more critical as Google continues to help offline merchants make more money through local and mobile applications.  Assuming you’ve claimed your free Google Places listings (for any city – this is a must), it’s now time to test advertising through Boost.

Boost enables business owners to easily create online search ads from directly within their Google Places account. No ongoing management is needed after the initial set up, and this beta is currently available to select local businesses in San Francisco, Houston and Chicago.

And with Google’s recent Android updates for Maps, this local information will be even more critical for the holidays.

5.  Product Ads.  In case you feel behind the ball in understanding Product Ads, don’t worry, there are more changes.  Google has hardened up its Product Ads attributes for the GMC data feed (stop using that prefer_for_query attribute!).  And Google is giving merchants more control of Product Ads through GMC (no data feed changes required).

Google Product Search Turns Into A Mall Again for Back To School

August 27, 2010 Leave a comment

A couple months ago, Google Product Search donned a new Mall-esque look for Father’s Day.  Looks like that test produced positive results for  Google Product Search as the mall look is back in style for the Back to School shopping season.

google product search

It’s been standard operating procedure for the other shopping engines to offer Back to School sections over the years.  And this year is no different.  Yahoo! Shopping, PriceGrabber, Smarter.com, and Sortprice (with a redesigned site) all have had Back to School sections up for the last couple weeks.  In fact, Google is behind on this one as Back to School shopping season started over a month ago.  Hopefully it rolls out its Halloween Shopping section in the next couple weeks…Smarter is already pushing Halloween Shopping on its homepage.

Google To Launch Deals Site?

August 6, 2010 2 comments

I’ve been pushing the shopping engines, including Google Shopping, to talk about deals for years.  The economy stinks and shopping engines can easily push bargains and savings.  And many have done so.  Yahoo! Shopping did this really early on.  Become, Pronto, PriceGrabber, and the rest followed.  But Google is still a holdout in that they don’t allow a merchant to submit a Sale Price in addition to a Regular Price, and thus allow a consumer to see a 10% off, 20% off, or 25% off sticker/star.

Deals.  You hear about a hot new daily deal site every day. It’s hard to keep track.  I used DailyCandy back in the day…and today the company launched DailyCandy Stylish alerts for Android (only for NYC).  I’ve used Woot off and on for years…and now that it’s an Amazon company, expect to see Woot leverage Amazon’s relationship with millions of sellers (and buyers, of course).  Twitter is experimenting with @earlybird. Groupon and the hundreds (is it thousands?) of clones around the country and around the world are the darlings of the media and the talk of the town.  And for a good reason.  Groupon is an incredible business making a boatload of money.

Deals.  Everyone wants them.  Online or offline, we want deals, steals, free shipping, bargains, and more.  Check out Google Trends for Daily Deals or Coupons.  Just as Amazon will move into a category that’s performing well, Google will look at what people are searching for and make sure they can provide the right answer and monetize the result.  Why do you think they’re gearing up for games? The growth of Facebook gaming sites like playdom and zynga is incredible.  Google sees this and makes a move or 2.

If Google’s goal is to organize the worlds information, they’re kinda letting us all down on deals.  Sure, I can search for ‘deals’ on Google, but I get 1000s of so-so coupon sites that Google has already dinged on Google AdWords for basically being duplicate content.  And there’s no specific deal information for the 20M uniques who use Google Shopping each month.  It’s only a matter of time until Google gets into the game itself.  Just as they’ve entered shopping or health or finance or travel, Google will jump on the bandwagon and offer a deals site…maybe they’ll buy one as well, but I’m sure they can easily do it themselves.  Google already has relationships with 100s of 1000s of online and offline business.  I’m going to table the discussion of Google launching a Groupon clone for now and just concentrate on an online daily deal site like a Woot, but on sterioids.

Google Merchant Center recently introduce the Featured Product attribute.  The Google Merchant Center Featured Product Attribute is “Used to indicate that this item is a special, featured product; for instances, items on promotion or featured in a sale or circular,” according to Google.

I estimate that there are about 60K-90K active merchants submitting data feeds to Google Merchant Center (Google doesn’t publish this number, so this is a guestimation).  Imagine if Google starts tapping into this merchant base for deals, or as they call them, featured products.   They’ll have to start classifying these Featured Products better – sale, coupon available, rebate available, in-store special, etc. – but it’s easy to see an extremely powerful deal site start to develop without much work on Google’s part.  Merchants are already providing Google Merchant Center with a lot of structured data (UPCs, titles, descriptions, images, prices, etc.) that most daily deal sites or coupon sites would kill to have or currently beg to have through the affiliate networks  like CJ and Linkshare (super-affiliates need to work with data feeds from merchants as opposed to banners, buttons, and basic links).  Google Shopping already has all this data.  Just as they’ve started to publish merchant offers and take a cut of the transaction through Product Listing Ads, they can do the same for deals.

Google Deals.  Has a nice ring to it.

But for Google, especially with commerce related activites, it’s not about a new property, it’s about leveraging structured data to enhance Search, AdWords,  Mobile, Checkout, etc.  So expect featured products to show up on Google Deals, but also on Google Shopping, attached to Google AdWords ads, and sprinkled everywhere else.   If I worked at Google, I’d start pusing Google Deals OneBox results for searches like ‘Xbox coupon’ or ‘digital camera deal’ just in time for the holiday shopping season.

Look to Ask for Inspiration

I’m sure that Stephanie and her team have plenty of ideas how to integrate Google Checkout into Google Product Search and other Google commerce products, but for inspriation, the team should just head over to Ask and search for any product.  Besides finding lots of Ask Smart Answers for shopping powered by Pronto (similar to Google’s OneBox results for shopping powered by Google Product Search), Ask is also giving Amazon a lot of real estate on each page.  However, it’s not just a simple link in the organic results, but rather a deep link directly into the Amazon cart.

Imagine Google adding a Google Checkout button to their OneBox results (and other Google Product Search areas).  This is pretty much a no-brainer:

(now that you’re done laughing at my graphic design skills), now imagine that link going directly to the Checkout checkout flow similar to the Ask/Amazon integration above.

Merchants have raised concerns about Google cutting them out of the equation by allowing consumers to search within a site right on Google’s SERPs.   Merchants wanted to control their own on-site search experience (think merchandising, cross-selling, upselling, etc. – although this was all before Google Commerce Search).

And after all these years, I’m still weary about merchants giving Google Checkout too much access and not getting enough in return (as consumers can hide their email address from the merchant).  What is Google eventually going to do with all the purchase data?  If Google is trying to organize the world’s information and they know you’ve purchased a camera from J&R through Google Checkout, what’s to stop them from sending a special offer to the consumer for a camera bag from eBags, another Google Checkout merchant?

Some might argue that this is actually all good for the merchant…Google could be a better marketer than the merchant.  But Google Checkout giving the consumer the option to “keep your email address confidential, and easily turn off unwanted emails from stores where you use Google Checkout” scares me.  As an internet marketer, I know that an in-house email list (your own customers) is gold, or better than gold.

Google has a lot of amazing opportunities to tightly integrate Google Checkout into a lot of their commerce properties.  That was one of the points from my Googazon post that started this blog.  The integrations between all of Google’s commerce related products are mind boggling.

In some ways this could be an amazing experience for the consumer and an extremely profitable flow for the merchant.  It’ll be interesting to see how merchants react and how Google addresses questions about disintermediation.

Google Commerce News

I won’t always be able to quickly give analysis on all Google Commerce related news, but at least want to share links to stories you might find interesting.  Here are two from this morning:

Google Commerce Search 2.0 Gets Refinements, $25K Price Point – eWeek.com

Google still trying to meet your shopping needs – CNET

Google Product Search Looking Like a Mall for Father’s Day, Google Checkout Offers

June 17, 2010 2 comments

For the first time in a while (maybe ever?) Google Product Search is not just listing a search box and links to popular product searches, but also product images on it’s homepage.  If you’re looking for Father’s Day presents, Google is listings what I’d have to assume are popular products/categories/searches for Dads.

Google Product Search looks a little more like a mall than a shopping search engine.  I’m sure this is just a test (Google runs tests all the time), but considering that Google is pushing images in Product Listing Ads and Product Extension Ads, maybe this will stay around for a while.   Why shouldn’t Google surface their top products with images as opposed to the normal links if this strategy can increase click-through rate and create a more engaging shopping experience?

In addition, Google Checkout has been running special deals for Father’s Day.  Nice to see Google Checkout getting some attention.  Expect more since Stephanie Tilenius previously headed PayPal’s merchant services business when she was at eBay.

As the Google Checkout blog states, “Hundreds of Checkout stores are offering exclusive discounts of $5, $10, or $20 on purchases made now through June 18, 2010.”  Now, if only Google Product Search could list the merchant’s Google Checkout promotion within the Product Search results as they do within Google AdWords listings:

Google Product Search/Google Shopping already allows consumers to filter results by those merchants that accept Google Checkout. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw these BIG, BOLD Checkout offers on Google Product Search/Google Shopping in the near future.  Wouldn’t this be a great way for Google to get additional adoption for Google Checkout?

The Many Forms of Google OneBox Shopping Results

Back in 2006, I wrote about Google OneBox results as part of a 4 part series that also looked at Yahoo! Shortcuts, Ask Smart Answers, and Microsoft’s Instant Answers.  Google’s OneBox results as they pertain to shopping search have mushroomed over the years and Google currently has a number of OneBox shopping results.  Here are the most common:

Basic 5-Pack:

The 5-Pack Normalized (multiple stores selling the same product):

The 5-Pack Normalized with Ratings:

Basic 3-Pack:

The 3-Pack Normalized (multiple stores selling the same product):

The 3-Pack Normalized with Ratings:

And the rare 4-Pack Normalized with Reviews

These OneBox shopping results are all obviously variations on a theme.  A OneBox result starts with a picture, title, and price, but can be supplemented with normalized listings and reviews.

The most common question I get is how a merchant gets listed in Google’s OneBox shopping results.  The easy answer is that the merchant has to submit a high quality data feed to Google Merchant Center.  What is a high quality data feed?  It starts with meeting Google Merchant Center’s basic data feed requirements, but the merchant has to go much further, improving the quality of the data and adding more relevant data to the data feed.  Think of it this way, if you submit the basic minimum data feed requirements to Google Merchant Center, you’re probably in the 50th percentile in terms of the quality of the data feed.  To move up to the 60th, 70th, or even 90th percentile, you have to add recommended attributes, optional attributes, custom attributes and improve the quality of the values of each attribute.  You also need to pay attention to settings like Tax and Shipping, you have to submit bigger, higher quality images, and you have to submit fresh product data whenever there are changes in your data feed.

And in general, a merchant has to take data feed optimization (DFO) just as seriously as they would SEO.  If you’re interested in improving the quality of your data feed, check out LoveYourFeed and start running tests on the amount of data you’re submitting and the quality of that data.

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